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Friday, October 24, 2014

Tyranny of Dragons - The Rise of Tiamat

You can download the free pdf supplement for this adventure here. It contains the monster stats, magic items and spell details you'll need to run this adventure.

This adventure is the sequel to Hoard of the Dragon Queen as well as the second and final part of the Tyranny of Dragons "storyline"/adventure path. It takes Dungeons & Dragons characters from level 8 to level 15.

You know, when you compare this to Pathfinder adventure paths, this is a very good deal. A Pathfinder path is $100 total for 6 books. This is just 2 books for a total of $60, and it should carry your group through 6 months of gaming (depending on how fast/slow your style is... I run fast - probably too fast).

I am interested to see if this one improves on Hoard of the Dragon Queen. I assume it will also have "condensed" encounters that will need some significant prep work prior to running.

You can buy this book on amazon here:

The Rise of Tiamat (D&D Adventure)

Spoiler Warning 

I am going to go over this book in great detail. There are spoilers galore. I even have some images of actual text in here. Please don't ruin this for yourself. If you are a player, look away.  You may want to just scroll all the way down to the bottom to catch my overall thoughts on this adventure.


Also I want to point out that I am about to unleash a torrent of nitpicks and complaints. I like this adventure. I mean.. it's got dungeons and dragons. It's the perfect way to kick off the new edition! But there are some serious issues and I don't want to sugarcoat them. Just know that I don't mean any of this in a cruel way. Wolfgang Baur has written some of my favorite adventures I've ever run. He was also an integral part of Dungeon Magazine when I first got into D&D. The guy is awesome and none of this is meant to disparage him or his efforts.

The Advantage of the Adventurer's League 

Here is another benefit of running these things in a game store. The store gets these books weeks before they are released on amazon or anywhere else! It's pretty sweet. I am not one to get excited about stuff in life, but I swear I was actually feeling a feeling when I picked this book up today. I am actually looking forward to reading through this!

Hoard of the Dragon Queen was written by Wolfgang Baur and Steve Winter, both former D&D employees who did significant work (including one of my favorite Al Qadim supplements, Secrets of the Lamp). This book is written by Wolfgang and Alexander Baur.

The Art

I am pretty picky about D&D art. Hoard's art was hit and miss - mostly miss. I particularly hated the art of the gnome Jamna Gleamsilver. The art in here is much better, tons of bright colors and cool dragons. It's all at least above-average. No masterpieces, but stuff ranging from "pretty cool" to "inspired". I could have used a nice big Tiamat piece aside from the cover. Throughout this article I will be using photos of the art from my book, photoshopped to the best of my ability.

The Plot

The Cult of the Dragon is going to use these five dragon masks which merge into one uber-mask. With the aid of a ritual cast by a splinter faction of Red Wizards, the mask can be used to bring Tiamat out of Hell and into the Forgotten Realms.

There's a handy, detailed synopsis of the events of this adventure on page 5. Basically, it goes like this:
  • There's a big council meeting of factions (hooray, the factions are used). 
  • Our heroes go on some missions while the cult tries to assassinate them. 
  • The factions try to enlist the aid of metallic dragons! 
  • The heroes have a chance to get the blue mask thanks to a cultist defector... 
  • And they will travel to Thay to try to enlist the evil red wizards in the fight against the cult. 
  • It all culminates in a massive battle at the Well of Dragons, where the cult tries to enact the ritual to summon Tiamat.
A "toolkit"?!

After the summary, we are given a bunch of encounters to fit in to the adventure if we so desire. Handy. They range from dealing with a succubus spy to capturing and interrogating a high-ranking cultist with the aid of some dwarves. This book basically gives us a bunch of parts to wedge into the adventure however we like. We also are left to create most of the details, which is not so cool in my opinion.

There's a bunch of pages devoted to detailing each of the factions involved in this scenario:

Bad Guys: The Cult of the Dragon, The Red Wizards of Thay, Devils (!), Chromatic Dragons and Giants (?).

The Devils are interesting. As I noted in my rundown of the Monster Manual, the first level of Hell is now run by Zariel. The former ruler, the pit fiend Bel, was demoted. Zariel wants Tiamat out of Hell and thus she is supporting the Cult. The devils don't really come into play much in this adventure (same goes for the giants).

The Cult has this item called the Draakhorn that can compel the chromatic dragons to come to the Well of Dragons. Those cultists with the 5 dragon masks can somewhat control the dragons. As the adventure progresses, more and more chromatic dragons head to the Well. Awesome.

Good Guys: The Harpers, Order of the Gauntlet, Emerald Enclave, Lord's Alliance and the Zhentarim. Also, Metallic Dragons and... Giants (?).

Anyone given a faction folder at a game store will be happy to know that the factions play a huge part in this adventure.

Major NPCs from some factions are detailed, including some people from Forgotten Realms lore like Lord Neverember and even Sir Isteval from the D&D Next series (Scourge of the Sword Coast, Dead in Thay, etc)! I would highly suggest that you immediately read up on the faction NPCs and begin to foreshadow them in your Hoard of the Dragon Queen game. For example, have Leosin (the monk trapped in the camp in HotDQ episode 2) mention Ramallia Haventree, or even have the Harper PCs meet her.

Episode 1: Council of Waterdeep

Uh oh. This book is organized differently. You newer DMs may have your hands full. This chapter details 4 council meetings that happen at separate times over the course of the adventure. This means page-flipping during play and a lot of extra prep-work. This is going to be a considerable investment of time.

I'm not clear on if this adventure will be used for the in-store Adventurer's League Encounters program. If so, I'd imagine that they'd re-format it for the free pdf release..?

None of these council meetings have any flavor text. This scenario kind of screams out for it, especially the first meeting. I think this is the first casualty of the adventure's page count. Cramming 7 episodes into about 85 pages did not do this adventure any favors.

Basically our heroes are "deputized" and given a writ that makes them official investigators. Each council session is a launching point for different quests.
This chapter is basically an outline of the whole adventure. It's kind of like how in 4e there were two booklets. One had the adventure story, and the other had all of the encounters.

As the heroes progress through the quests, we DMs are meant to track how they are doing on a "Council Scorecard" in Appendix C. Making a faction happy means you get access to certain resources.

Apparently this tracker will be available as a free download on the D&D site. It actually includes events that happen in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, so the faster you get this, the better. You can start using it right away.

The Dragon Eggs!

Wow... there is a paragraph here that I think should have been in book one. It is about the dragon eggs from episode 3 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Different factions would want to do different things with the eggs, including ransoming them back to the dragons.

I am going to post the whole paragraph here. My group has a baby black dragon from the hatchery. Dark named him "Sparky". This should be interesting.

Episode 2: The Sea of Moving Ice

The adventurers travel to the sea to try to find a tiefling who knows stuff about the Draakhorn. There's a cool section where the heroes sail on a ship called Frostskimmer and have some boat encounters. Then they find a village and a dungeon. In the dungeon is the tiefling, who is a sort-of prisoner of a white dragon.

The dungeon has a lot of kobolds. Come on now, we are 8th level here. Kobolds? There's also some skrags, which I love. The dungeon is quite large.

The heroes will come into conflict with a white dragon that casts spells (!). The dragon's hoard is crap-tastic. NO MAGIC ITEMS. For the love of... how can a dragon hoard have no magic items?!

Episodes 3 & 4: Death to the Wyrmspeakers
These are merged into one chapter for some reason. I assume it is due to space issues.

Episode 3 is about how a Zhent agent has stolen the white dragon mask from the cult. The PCs and the cultists race through a dungeon to get it. Along the way, our heroes come upon a "treasure vault". Are they finally going to get some kewl loot? No. No they are not. Who wants a ring of poison resistance and a couple of scrolls? Anyone?

So far in our Hoard game, we are about to start Episode 5 and there has been one magic item: a longbow +1. Why are they skimping? Magic items are cool.

There's yuan-ti in this dungeon, too. They have beaten up the cult leader who owned the white dragon mask (what a wuss). Basically, the heroes can gain custody of this dude. The white dragon mask is long gone. The cult already has it back. Ahh the old bait and switch. Not a fan!

The green dragon's hoard
Episode 4 details a trip to look for one of the cult leaders. He has a green dragon attacking elf settlements in the Misty Forest. There's a neat little section where the heroes investigate the remains of a village. They end up in a dungeon where the dragon lives. There's an ettin in there! One of my favorite monsters.

Here's a quick list of monsters that should appear at least once in every D&D campaign: Owlbear, Succubus, Ettin, Beholder, Dragon.

Our heroes kill the dragon and loot it's hoard. Guess what? That's right! NO MAGIC ITEMS.

Episode 5: The Cult Strikes Back

They're doing it again. This chapter has a series of encounters that should be placed throughout the adventure. The prep time on this thing is unreal.

They've actually taken it a step further from Hoard of the Dragon Queen. In Hoard, things were pretty much linear. This book has us flipping all over the place. It's almost a toolkit. A Pathfinder path would do us DMs the favor of placing the assassination attempts throughout the book in logical chronological spots. I mean, we're buying the adventure so we don't need to do this kind of thing, right?

There's three encounters which contain a number of assassins and suggestions as to how the fight might go down. We don't even get a full encounter! Just stuff like "maybe they attack in an inn" or "maybe on the road?".

Episode 6: Metallic Dragons, Arise!
Our heroes fly on the back of a silver dragon (for two days) to attend a meeting of metallic dragons. The adventurers must convince the dragons to help.

We get details on each dragon representative and some things they might want, which includes wealth, land and the creation of a temple to Bahamut. I like this chapter but it's way too short. How can you not have an encounter on the back of the silver dragon? Why wouldn't they put that in the adventure?

These dragons seem like they could have been incorporated into PC backgrounds. If you haven't started running Hoard of the Dragon Queen yet, definitely look into doing so. Any foreshadowing you can pull off, you should do. It will make this path feel much more cohesive.

Episode 7: Xonthal's Tower

The heroes travel to this tower in an attempt to snatch the blue dragon mask (turns out it's a fake.. cue the fail horn). The tower is surrounded by an extra-dimensional hedge maze. How cool is that?

In the hedge maze is a bunch of encounters with weird monsters including chuuls, otyughs, a gorgon, a cyclops, and a dao. There's also a magic sundial puzzle which is pretty cool. This kind of thing is what I like most about the 5e adventures. The hedge maze is a classic trope delivered in a fresh manner.

The tower has a pile of encounters (some of which feel like a drag), culminating with a battle against Lennithon, the blue dragon from the first episode of Hoard. I was hoping he'd show up again. Awesome.

I also feel the need to mention how lame I think it is that this adventure twice dangles the possibility of getting a dragon mask when there is actually no chance of getting one. It makes these sections feel like a waste of time.

Episode 8: Mission to Thay
This is an extremely short chapter where the adventurers meet with the Red Wizards of Thay to try to get them to join the alliance. There's a scene at night where the wizards invade the PCs dreams to question them and "...subject the PC(s) to agonizing tortures" which causes actual psychic damage. I will have to change this to suit my group as I think some of them are too young for this kind of scene.

Episode 9: Tiamat's Return

Here we go, the final part of the entire Tyranny of Dragons story! The heroes go to the Well of Dragons, which is among the ruins of scorched towns that are patrolled by angry chromatic dragons.

It goes like this. Our heroes and their army of "factional assets" come to where the Cult is mustering for a final battle. There's chromatic dragons everywhere. An epic battle ensues... which is not really detailed much.

The idea here is that our heroes are leading the charge with their "factional assets" that they've accrued throughout the adventure. Depending on who they've helped and made happy (consult the aforementioned scorecard from Appendix C), they'll have different allies at their side.

For example, if the PCs have scored points with the Emerald Enclave, they will have treants and griffons to aid them. If things went well in chapter 6, the heroes will have the aid of METALLIC DRAGONS in the final assault. Now we're talking!

Our heroes make their way into the Well of Dragons, which is a pretty lame dungeon full of guards and guard drakes. There's about 20 rooms in this dungeon. It's split up weirdly. There's three entrances leading to three self-contained sections, only one of which needs to be passed through to get the the temple.

It seems like our heroes might need a short rest in here, but there is certainly no time for that. I don't know, maybe high level PCs can handle a lot of encounters in one day...? This dungeon leads our heroes to an area in a dormant volcano where Tiamat's temple from hell has been summoned to this plane.

That's a cool idea. I have actually gone over Tiamat's lair in hell a few months ago in this blog, which appeared in the 2nd edition Fires of Dis adventure. Another Tiamat lair was in the final adventure of Scales of War.

I would have liked to see more detail about the mass combat. This is the penultimate encounter! We should be riding griffons battling dragons in the sky, dodging fireballs cast by 4 red wizards up on a balcony, and having a climactic battle with the god of evil dragons. Not fighting guard drakes.

I can't help but compare this to the final adventure in the D&D 4th edition Scales of War adventure path wherein the heroes assault Tiamat's lair. In that one, the heroes have to hack their way through a dungeon designed for level 30 characters (!) and battle five different gigantic dragons (Tiamat's consorts) each in their own themed room before finally fighting Tiamat on a platform held aloft by a twisting column of lava.

In comparison, this does not measure up in any way whatsoever. It's not even close.

The other thing is that all of your "assets" (your faction allies) amount to background noise. All they do is have an off-screen NPC battle while your heroes take on Tiamat. I guess you can make some encounters involving them. Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? It is entirely plopped in your lap.

There is even a chance that our heroes can shut down the ritual before Tiamat emerges. Sheesh... what a letdown. Why even include that option?! Tiamat is TIAMAT. Obviously the players want to fight her, right?

The adventure points out that Tiamat will be weakened if the PCs can do things like stop some sacrifices, get a dragon mask, or damage the actual temple. If she is weakened, we are given a list of stat alterations to apply to her.

I know that mass combat in D&D has always been tricky business. This episode doesn't even give concrete numbers as to how many enemies there are here. It's kept vague to suit the needs of the DM. I would have liked it if the dungeon was eliminated and we had the encounters out on the battlefield - although that does make it difficult to explain why our heroes are dealing with all of the major plot points while their faction allies just kind of fight in the background.

Actually defeating Tiamat in battle discorporates her. When dropped to 0 hit points, she is banished back to hell. Her stat block is good - it's got a lot of epic details, though I wish she had a combined breath weapon.

I don't think I've ever seen a published adventure that didn't need some tweaking or work. The Rise of Tiamat is no exception. You, the DM, will have to put some work in to run this successfully. You can do it, but you have to be willing to make the effort. This can not be run right out of the book.

This is a fun adventure. I like it. It could have used some more epic scenes, and the detail is sorely lacking in certain places. For some reason, there are very few magic items in this thing.

I get the feeling there simply weren't enough pages for Wolfgang to execute this adventure properly. Maybe for the next path Wizards should add 40 pages and charge $40 per book instead..? That doesn't really bother me, though I like paying $30 for a hardcover. I guess we'll see what the general consensus from the player base is on this issue. I'd also really like a poster map or two. 

I do think this is worth running. There's a lot of cool moments and clever ideas. If you like making an adventure your own and truly putting your own spin on it, then this will work out well for you. If you are looking for something simple to run right out of the book, then this might not be for you. You will need to have stats handy and you'll need to be very familiar with the material, especially chapters one and five (though let's face it, you can just skip the assassination encounters entirely).

It is so odd to me that so much attention is put on the tomb with the yuan-ti and the tower in the hedge maze. That kind of focus needed to be on what I think are the far more interesting chapters (the metallic dragons and the final episode). The final fight with Tiamat comes off flat. Even the map is lame. It's just a bunch of brown star-shaped blotches.

To try to put this in perspective, though, I would say that Tyranny of Dragons is much, much better than previous edition's initial attempts at an adventure series.

When 3rd edition hit, I didn't care for The Sunless Citadel at all or the "path" that followed.

4th edition's Keep on the Shadowfell was pretty lame (I got the sense it drove many, many players screaming from 4e entirely). That HPE adventure path was excruciating (though I loved some of the epic tier stuff). I dare anyone alive to try to play through the duergar section of Thunderspire Labyrinth and not feel the urge to cause bodily harm. Who among you can play all the way through Assault on Nightwyrm Fortress without weeping openly at the table?

What I am trying to say is that as an initial offering for 5th edition, this has plenty of good stuff to use. I am sure the next path will be better, and the one after that will be exponentially greater as they learn from their mistakes. Even Rise of the Runelords comes off lame compared to later Pathfinder paths.

Look through this book before you buy it. Make sure you are up for this. If you have the time, you can make this great. But you will need to roll up your sleeves and get to work.


Unknown said...

With the amount of time I spent tweaking just the encounters in HoTDQ, I'm hoping that at least it won't be as unbalanced as it was in the first episode.

Sean said...

Unknown: I think there will be quite a bit of tweaking. All of those encounters that are left to the DM to place probably will need to be adjusted depending on what level your PCs are. That assassin encounter in HotDQ was wayyyy overpowered.

Nathaniel said...

Awesome review! Question for you: I like the overall storyline but it sounds like some of the execution, especially the climax, could be improved. You specifically compare the Tiamat lair encounter in RoT with the one in Scales of War, which I haven't read. Could you replace the lair in RoT with the one in SoW pretty easily for a major improvement? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

It would have been nice to see an epic giants vs. dragons battle rather than the almost trite chromatic vs. mettalic dragons thing. Seems very Dragonlance. I wonder if I could change that out without too much trouble?

Thanks for the review - that was one of the best I have seen out there so far.

Sean said...

Nathaniel: Thanks! The Scales of War finale is very different. You'd have to do a bit of tweaking to use it. In Rise, Tiamat emerges from a pit (she is being summoned from hell. In Scales, she is on a hovering platform protected by 5 statues that shoot insanely powerful "breath" attacks if you try to fly up to the platform. Each of the five statues is linked to the soul of a colossal chromatic dragon lurking in Tiamat's lair. You need to kill all 5 dragons to shut down the statues. It was awesome (though the monsters were too easy as written)

Sean said...

Anon: Thank you! That is a cool idea, with the giants vs. dragons, although you should have the metallic dragons on your side at the end if things go well. The problem there is that the dragons can fly, so the giants would be sitting ducks (though they can throw rocks and stuff). There are giant spellcasters though, so I guess it could work. They could use catapults and ballistas too.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that it's disappointing to see the possibility of stopping the ritual before Tiamet even shows up. My players will encounter her in some way.

Since the factional allies are mostly background noise, I didn't want to develop a whole complicated battle scene. They failed to get the support of one faction of the Lord's Alliance which means one enemy faction won't be delayed/distracted. That group will intercept the party in the Well. It won't be a difficult fight, just a delay while the ritual is going on. When they finally get inside the temple, Tiamet will just start to emerge, body first. Each round that the ritual proceeds, and additional head will emerge that she can now fight with. If the ritual is disrupted before all heads are out, she will still emerge but in a weakened form.

I also switched the mages for archmages because my players kill low-level enemies too easily and I want it to last more than two rounds. However, one of my players is a good dragonborn who worships Bahamut. So to make up for the added difficulties, Bahamut might show up to save the day. I wish I could find stats for him though.

Sean said...

Anonymous: That sound like a very cool way to handle the final battle. Having an additional head pop out each round sounds really awesome.

Bahamut stats.. check out one of the 4e draconomicon books and I think he's in the 2e Monster Mythology book. I see this set of stats for him here:,_Great-Great-Great_Wyrm_Platinum_Dragon

The thing I like most about Bahamut is that he takes the form of an old man with 7 golden canaries. Each canary is actually a gold dragon.

Good luck! Sounds like you will have an epic finale.

Unknown said...

I'm want to include David Bowie among the hedge maze encounters.